Out of South Africa: English - as she is spoke in Sefrika, men

JOHANNESBURG - Now that white South Africans are considered to be acceptable members of the human race it might be appropriate to try and become acquainted with one of their languages - the one they call English. Idiom, pronunciation and Afrikaans penetration are the three terrains of idiosyncrasy on which the foreigner will have to battle.

'Howzit?', literally translated as 'how is it?' is the most common form of greeting. The question, in truth, does not demand an answer. When English-speaking white South Africans say 'howzit?' what they really mean is 'hallo'.

But 'hah ewe?', meaning 'how are you?' should be taken as a genuine inquiry. The conventional reply, 'fahn', means 'fine', a phonetic variation on Queen's English which remains consistent in such instances as 'nahss' ('nice') and 'raht' ('right').

'Men' means man (though you can use it to address a woman) and is used commonly as in American English to complete a short conversational sentence. The same phonetic logic applies in words like 'flet' ('flat') and 'feb' (short for 'fabulous').

'Lekker' is an Afrikaans word which means 'sweet', strictly speaking, but in everyday conversation might best be translated as 'great' or 'super', as in 'that was a lekker meal we had last naht'. 'Jol' (pronounced 'jawl') is very popular among the young white things and means 'party' or 'groove', as in 'let's jol, doll'. Most of the other Afrikaans words used in the course of conversational South African English are too impolite to translate.

A case in point was provided during a recent test match between South Africa and Australia at the Wanderers, Johannesburg's Lord's. Shane Warne was fielding at third man when two South Africa supporters appeared on the boundary behind him and held up a sign which read, in pure Afrikaans, skaapsteker. (Clue: 'skaap' means 'sheep'.) Warne, who had done his homework, glowered at one of the two men and shouted, in an improper anatomical reference to his mother, 'Jou ma is 'n poes' - which rhymes with puss.

Since most Afrikaners speak English, English is certain soon to become South Africa's de facto official language. So once you've got used to the pronunciation ('yiss', incidentally, is how they say 'yes'), it's the idiomatic expressions which will pose the only serious challenges.

Imagine you're at a restaurant, getting impatient for your meal. You ask the waitress when your kudu steak is coming. If she replies, 'Just now', you're in trouble. The steak's probably still in the bush. 'Now, now' is better, suggesting the steak has perhaps made it to the deep freeze.

Then again, you're in a mall, where the South African bourgeoisie spend most of their Saturday mornings, and you're taking your baby for a stroll in the pram. Two kugels - young women (usually Jewish) dressed, groomed and accessorised after the very latest fashion - look inside the pram. 'Ag, look, men. Shame],'coos kugel A. 'Shame]' echoes kugel B.

Do not be alarmed. They are not suggesting your baby is pitiably ugly. On the contrary. Shame can mean shame but it can also mean 'adorable'.

'Shame' can convey dripping admiration but it can also convey dry disdain: 'England got thrashed at rugby by Natal]' 'Shame.' Or it can express genuine distress: 'Shame, men] Shame]' might be the response to the news that you've broken your leg.

For the benefit of previous visitors to South Africa it might be as well to point out that some words you might have encountered a month ago are rapidly going out of date in the new South Africa. 'Garden boy' for a 65-year-old black man is not recommended. You do not call a black person a 'kaffir'. (Even Eugene Terreblanche has bowed before this brand of political correctness.) And, for those who were in South Africa some 30 years ago, 'niggerballs' for a particular kind of gobstopper is most definitely out.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£17000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity is now ...

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Recruitment Genius: European Sales Director - Aerospace Cable & Wire

£100000 - £125000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Project Manager

£17100 - £22900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral